Wednesday, January 23, 2013 – Day 4
We woke at 6:00am, worked out, showered, breakfasted, packed, and met Jamal at 8:15am after checking out of our hotel. We picked up [a friend] at around 8:30am and headed to the Rixos hotel for she and Lorianne to attend a conference put on by the Forum for a Democratic Libya (FDL) and the United Nations Development Project (UNDP). The conference was entitled “An Open Dialogue for Libya’s New Constitution towards an Inclusive and Democratic Social Contract” and was obviously very topical to Lorianne’s work.
At the conference Lorianne reunited with [old acquaintances]. We failed at finding real food in the Rixos because we silly Americans plus one Brit wanted to eat at noon rather than 3:00pm per normal Libyan timetables so we spoke over cakes, cookies, and tea from the conference food supplemented by biltong, peanuts, and dried apples from the snacks Lorianne and I had brought along all on a cocktail table eaten while standing.
We met [a civil society organizer] at the Radisson.... I sat through the entire hour and a half meeting very politely though I had nothing to say and was not very interested in the subject matter. I often caught myself absentmindedly watching the television on the wall behind [the person Lorianne was meeting with]. Lorianne thankfully told me afterward that I could skip most meetings from then on – my apparent boredom made her nervous and my presence was unnecessary.
After the meeting Jamal drove us to our new home in the villa. The villa is a very large three-story home near Chicken Street about 2 km east of the Radisson and [the office]. The street is called Chicken Street because of its many butcher shops (though I suspect the neighborhood rooster that is perpetually crowing may have something to do with it as well). Lorianne and I will have a corner room on the third floor, and share a bathroom with another housemate. We have easy access to a very large porch and the roof, as well as all other areas of the house. We have five other housemates....
We went shopping on Chicken Street that night to get some groceries. We walked the entire street and then visited a grocery store, a butcher / egg store, and a vegetable & fruit stand. This night, before the holiday of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, was the night everyone set off fireworks. They were going off up and down the street and sounded eerily of gunshots. At the outdoor veg & fruit stand, our last stop, we got a lot of attention from a group of young men who were getting pretty exuberant, wanted us to light fireworks, and wanted to talk to Lorianne and me in their broken English. We eventually extricated ourselves from their zealous and forward friendship and went home. We were never in danger, but the excited attention accompanied by fireworks was uncomfortable for a pregnant woman and her protective husband, and we decided we would not take any more after-dark excursions.
That night I made my version of Libyan chicken & rice with some success. Chicken, onions, garlic, chili powder, turmeric, and cinnamon mixed with rice. Lorianne gave it rave reviews.
Thursday, January 24, 2013 – Day 5 – Holiday of Mawlid an-Nabi (“Birth of the Prophet”)
Lorianne and I attempted to get our exercise this morning by trying to find the “Hydrodome” an enormous track near our home. Our efforts were an epic failure. We essentially spent an hour walking its perimeter, either unable to find a road leading to the complex or unable to find its entrance. After walking its full perimeter, we found the entrance, took a quick look inside, and then headed home.
Lorianne had a lunch at the Radisson where she interviewed the founder of FDL, the former prime minister’s son (from before Gaddafi’s coup in the 1960s), and his scholarly colleagues from Lebanon. Exempted from future meetings where I was not needed, I found a seat in the lobby and made myself comfortable. After this meeting Jamal kindly drove us into the Old City of Tripoli. Our goal was to find the celebration procession formed by Suffi Muslims to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. We found the general area in the Old City and Jamal and I drank the most delicious thick green / mint tea while we all waited for the procession participants to finish a meal they were eating in a special school where the Qur’an is studied. We had to stay on our toes as firecrackers were going off all around us. Lorianne and I were incredibly conspicuous and targets for young boys to toss firecrackers at our feet. Eventually an older gentleman approached us and spoke to Jamal. Jamal told us he was inviting us inside to participate in the meal. We felt honored and accepted the invitation.
We entered the school, which we at first thought was a sort of mosque. It was essentially an open-air rectangular structure with a courtyard in the middle and rooms with doors all around the perimeter. Jamal told us that the rooms were used to study the Qur’an. Rugs were laid on the ground in the courtyard and platters of food were being brought out by men to those seated on the ground. We followed others’ actions and removed our shoes and seated ourselves on a rug. Jamal joined us as well as another Muslim man who remained mute through the whole meal. A young man brought Lorianne a scarf and signaled for her to cover her head, presumably to reverence the event. Lorianne covered her head with her own headscarf. We received an extraordinary amount of attention. We were the only white people there, almost certainly the only non-Libyans, and Lorianne was the only woman. Men were snapping pictures as quickly as they could, some of them blatantly and some of them inconspicuously. We didn’t mind the attention or the pictures; we felt very honored to be there and pleased to participate in such an interesting event. We were brought a large bowl of lamb, onion, and chick pea stew over penne pasta which we ate communally with spoons. We also had a plate of fruit and olives and peppers brought to us. After eating we put back on our shoes and exited the school. We waited in the alley for 30-45 minutes until music and chanting began and the men proceeded out of the school in a procession that turned north toward us through the alley. Many were banging drums with leather straps, others were banging cymbals, still others were waving sticks or staffs to the music, and one young man held aloft a steel receptacle billowing smoke filled with sweet-smelling embers and what I think were anise seeds. They chanted the same Arabic words again and again – Jamal told us they essentially meant, in part, “The words of the Prophet Mohammed are sure and can be trusted.” It was a beautiful and pleasant scene. Lorianne, Jamal, and I fell in behind the procession and followed it until we reached the road that led back to our car.
After our Old City adventure, we stopped at a chemist and then a shopping center to pick up some antibiotic cream, a hair dryer, and some tweezers (even in Libya a girl’s gotta primp and preen). After arriving home Lorianne continued her day’s work writing and reading while I made dinner. I attempted to replicate some delicious Libyan rice we had in a few restaurants. I cooked it with dried apricots, walnuts, turmeric, and cinnamon. Not as great as the chicken, but OK nonetheless.
Friday, January 25, 2013 – Day 6 – “The Sabbath Day”
As previously mentioned, there are no organized units of the Church in Libya, and thus the Church authorized us to hold our own weekly family Sacrament service. With me conducting and Lorianne attending, we sang “I Am a Child of God” and had an opening prayer in the sunshine of our large patio. I then blessed and passed the Sacrament (bread for Lorianne, dried apricot for me; one cup of water to share). We watched the movie “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration” and Lorianne led us in Sunday School lessons from The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow and the Doctrine & Covenants. We ended by singing “How Firm a Foundation” and closing with a prayer. It was a special experience to hold our two-person church service in a distant, unfamiliar land.
[A friend] had invited us to a lunch at her friend’s home at 2pm. This turned out to be a very special dinner....There were 15 people or so at the lunch, members of the family, [our friend], Lorianne and me...and several notable others. Lunch was remarkably delicious: fish soup, salad, rice with flaked fish and roasted almonds, tuna steaks, grilled sea bream, roasted lamb and potatoes, fennel, fresh squeezed blood orange juice, and bitter soda. After eating we went to another sitting room to talk and eat some more. Dessert was first tea, then fruit, then tea & coffee, then honey & almond cake, cream cheese pastries, and baklava, then tea & coffee again. Nearly everyone there, Libyans and diplomats alike, were very interested in Lorianne’s expertise and what she had to say. She kept her audience in rapt attention a number of times during the afternoon as she related historical constitutional comparisons from the U.S. and other countries, stories complete with names, dates, and storylines, and how they related to Libya’s current situation.
Jamal then delivered us to the Rixos hotel, where Lorianne and I had been invited to attend a speakers’ dinner for a “One Voice” Libyan women’s conference at which she had been invited to speak. Being incredibly full from lunch, and being excused from any and all meetings in which I was not interested, I deferred from attending with the caveat that if it was in any way embarrassing or offensive, Lorianne could text me and I would join her....She was too full to eat much, but enjoyed the company, learning more about the womens’ organizations co-sponsoring the event and the Arabic speech of the German Ambassador present at the meeting. She was also able to meet with a GNC member assigned to the constitutional committee who did not speak English but was pleased to accept Lorianne’s translated articles, which she happened to have on her person. Lorianne learned from the dinner that six Libyan womens’ organizations had banded together to determine and lobby for a quota of womens’ participation in the constitution drafting committee and certain substantive provisions ensuring equality in the constitution.